As I noted yesterday, the assent of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was essential for the passage of the status of forces agreement, as it is for almost any significant political issue in the new religious Shia-dominated Iraq.
Today, Sistani reiterated his position in favor of strong political consensus, indicating in a statement issued by his office in Najaf that the pact would only be viable if it secured the “restoration of full sovereignty and the realization of Iraq’s stability and security,” and that it had to “win the support of all Iraqis and their main political groups.”
[Sistani] did not suggest that he wanted it passed unanimously, instead using the Arabic word for “accord,” or support by a large and representative number of lawmakers.
“Any agreement that does not meet those two demands … cannot be accepted,” said al-Sistani, who called on lawmakers to “rise to their historic responsibility before God and the people.” [...]
Al-Sistani’s comments did not constitute a change in the cleric’s position on the agreement, but the timing and the tone of the statement suggested that he may have lingering concerns.
The lingering concerns probably have to do with resistance to the agreement from other Iraqi nationalist trends, such as the Sadrists and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. Sistani’s first-order goals have always been the security of the Shia community and the maintenance of that community’s relationship to its clerics, and the unrest that could very likely result from the perception that the SOFA was passed through legislative trickery would not serve those goals. Sistani is also probably wary of the challenge to his own authority that may arise if an agreement which he has approved fails to pass the legislature, so he’s hedging a bit.
Here, in part 2 of my interview with CNN’s Michael Ware, we discuss the continuing role of Sistani in Iraqi politics, as well as some developments which may eventually pose just such a challenge, such as the growing political power of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). We also talk about the relationship between the Iranian-backed Special Groups and the mainline Jaysh al-Mahdi, and Ware’s belief that JAM could be back on the street “in the blink of an eye.”